The Philippines defence minister has confirmed “very strong” links between the so-called Islamic State (IS) and home-grown militants such as Abu Sayyaf.
Delfin Lorenzana said new intelligence had shown Muslim rebels had been communicating with IS, and funds were being transferred in the same way as overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East send home their remittances.
“Before, what we suspected was the IS group would come here but now we are certain that the connections are very strong between home-grown terrorists here and IS in the Middle East,” he said.
“Also there’s quite an amount of money being sent here from the Middle East.”
He said incriminating messages via social media, telephone and text had been intercepted, and whatever funds were being transferred were difficult to detect due to the number of Filipinos who regularly send money from places like Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.
He clarified that there was no indication governments of those countries were involved.
Concerns have also been expressed that would be jihadists are eyeing the country as a place to wage religious war as the vice tightens on their traditional strongholds in the Middle East.
We recently reported on the case of a British Muslim convert who has been imprisoned for attempting to join the ranks of Abu Sayyaf.
Later in the press conference, Mr Lorenzana said that did not consider ties with the United States to be strained, despite President Duterte’s frequent tirades and threats to tear up joint defence treaties.
However, he did say that some statements on China by figures close to President Trump were “very troubling”, adding that the ‘Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement’ (EDCA) would make US troops based in the Philippines “magnets for retaliation” should things turn hostile.
“We are concerned if war breaks out and it is near us we will be involved whether we like it or not,” he said, adding that if a conflict looked likely, the Philippines would consider scrapping EDCA to avoid the sort of devastation seen in World War Two.
There were no signs of any new Chinese reclamation in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, he said, and he had been given assurances by China’s ambassador that it would not do any dredging in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
Despite warming ties with Beijing, the Philippines still “would like to know more the thinking of China” regarding its end-game in building artificial islands equipped with military hardware, he said.
The Philippines was in no rush to pressure China to abide by last year’s ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled in the nation’s favour.
(Read more here.)
After the Philippines won the award, the US had wanted it to push China to comply, Lorenzana said, but it had offered no guarantees of support.
“If we assert our right, our award, it was never going to do any good for us,” he said. “Would the Americans have backed us?”
He said internal security threats were growing and his ministry would next year request a doubling of its budget, or more, to address them.
The army’s involvement in Duterte’s war on drugs, following his decision to suspend police from the campaign, would be limited to assisting the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on a case-by-case basis in hostile situations.
“They go there if they are asked by PDEA and they need firepower, then we will assist, that’s our job, that’s all,” he said.